Above LEFT Immature white blood cells resulting from congenital leukaemia. This is a cancer-like disease of these blood cells. Above RIGHT Cancer cells from human breast. This a common site for benign and malignant tumours.
This post is the last instalment of chapter nine from Breaking the Code of History, which I am sharing with you, split over a number of days. If you haven't already please check out the first instalment below:
- The Disease Cycle of Empire
- Diseases of Expansion of Empire - Part 1
- Diseases of Expansion of Empire - Part 2
- Diseases of Contraction of Empire
- Diseases of the Future
Disease and the Future
Four characteristics of a disease define its relative threat to mankind, as follows:
1 Incubation period. The longer the incubation period, the greater a disease’s potential spread before it becomes active. HIV has an incubation period of up to ten years.
2 Infectiousness. The faster the transmission rate of a disease, the more widespread the epidemic.
3 Mortality rate. The death rate affects the rate of spread. Ebola and marburg are easily incubated and cause 100 percent mortality. Outbreaks remain isolated as sufferers cannot move far before dying.
4 Symptomatology. If the signs of infection are obvious, then the symptoms can be diagnosed and carriers isolated. However, if the carrier is infectious before they develop symptoms, then the risk of widespread transmission increases dramatically.
Theoretically then, the most devastating epidemic could materialise from a disease that incubates slowly, shows no symptoms while the host is infectious, and results in a high mortality rate. This would be able to spread across the globe before the authorities could recognise the threat and then quarantine the infected areas.
As we have seen, the emerging nations with their high population densities and relatively low public health standards are potential disease reservoirs. China and India are the foremost candidates, and they have historical precedent. However, Latin America, particularly Brazil and Mexico, have massive cities that are potential incubators for disease and could well provide the source of the next global pandemic. Indeed, swine flu, which threatened a world epidemic in 2009, emanated from Mexico. A disease reservoir on the doorstep of the US, currently facing the aftermath of the credit crisis with its associated social stress, is a sobering reality, yet consistent with epidemics gaining traction in the declining phase of the life cycle of an empire.
At present, diseases such as HIV/AIDS appear to be contained – in the WCSE at least. However, we will need to be vigilant about the development of more virulent versions that, in tandem with TB and malaria, which prey on the reduced immune systems of victims, may result in a more deadly epidemic than any we have yet seen.
If our thesis of the cycle of empires and disease is correct, it is in the interests of the developed world to invest in medical research to fight against diseases prevalent in the emerging nations, because with globalisation any new epidemic will inevitably and quickly reach their own shores. Indeed, the WCSE may well suffer more than the expanding empires of Asia due to the social stresses of the west to east power shift.
More broadly, as the expanding population of the world competes for limited resources during the coming decades, causing ever higher levels of social stress, the ground may well be set for a global epidemic of proportions akin to the Black Death. This would rebalance the human population within the Earth’s ecosystem. Indeed, at times, man’s war against disease seems to be an ever-accelerating race against the Earth’s desire to rein in its own disease – humankind – in the quest to maintain its equilibrium.
A discussion about disease would not be complete without a brief word about biological weapons. As if our struggle against naturally occurring disease were not challenging enough, our downfall could be at our own hands should any of the biogenetically modified biological weapons that have been developed ever escape the laboratory through human negligence or terrorism. It is uncertain whether the containment of such a catastrophe would even be possible.
However, even with modern medicine and DNA analysis, constant vigilance is required to contain the power of the naturally occurring bacterium and virus. Perhaps an understanding of the nature of disease within the cycle of empire may provide the context for understanding the nature of disease itself. Indeed, we have only viewed individual diseases within the context of the empire cycle, but if we look at the sum effect of diseases against the cycle, we have to conclude that the coherence of thought and energy that are required to build an empire also push back the boundaries of disease and its effects on the population; conversely, as coherence declines, the disease process regains the ground it had lost. Despite our best attempts at scientific advances, disease will constantly find ways to mutate to counter new cures, ensuring that man’s war against disease will be ongoing and protracted.
Disease impacts differently on developed and emerging countries. The developing world suffers from higher disease levels associated with the social stress of high population densities, poverty and poor access to medical care, compounded by the low standards of the care available. Consequently, lower average lifespans and greater child mortality feature more frequently. Inhabitants of the developed world, however, enjoy extended lifespans with better health care and access, with many of the diseases that affect their counterparts in the developing world either absent or limited in presence. Although the average inhabitants of wealthy countries do not often pause to consider the state of health in poor ones, such nonchalance is ill advised and possibly deadly. The globalised world of the foreseeable future is criss-crossed with travel routes; new opportunistic diseases incubating in one country can be rapidly delivered to the rest of the world. Two key examples are HIV and drug-resistant tuberculosis
The modern world has also witnessed the birth of new viruses in areas like China (SARS) and Mexico (H1N1, or ‘swine flu’), both of which were cause for pandemic scares in 2002–2003 and 2009, respectively. High population density and the proximity of animals in poor city and rural regions are high-risk incubation zones for new viruses. Pandemics can ravage an expanding human population, and easily spread viruses with high mortality rates that have had decimating effects many times throughout history – the fourteenth-century Black Death and the 1918 Spanish flu being just two obvious instances. If, as I have discussed, empires are vulnerable to disease as they enter the stage of decline, then the US could soon be particularly susceptible to a viral pandemic. The 1918 flu affected 28 percent of Americans and killed some 500,000–675,000; the 1957 Asian Flu pandemic killed around 70,000 Americans. Influenza caused an average of 36,000 deaths annually in the US during the 1990s, out of a population of over 250million. The annual death toll from seasonal flu has since risen. A pandemic flu with high lethality as well as high communicability could easily infect one in two people and cause four deaths per thousand – a frequency that would kill 1.0–1.5 million Americans and 70–150 million people worldwide. Conservatively, the US economy would lose $500– 750 billion, and the world, $4–5 trillion (approximately 5 percent of global GDP).
With such high potential costs at stake, the developed world should commit resources to ensuring that disease reservoirs in emerging nations can be contained. Financial and medical aid could reduce the frequency and severity of infectious diseases in the poorest regions. Given that poverty is linked to disease, more equitable economic growth could further reduce the spread of disease – one more reason to encourage emerging economies. The formation of a global health fund with a mandate to channel aid from developed nations into disease-fighting programmes would be a good first step. Such a group could coordinate its efforts with organisations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has, in effect, recognised the urgency of addressing global health concerns ahead of the world’s governments.
The reduction of infectious disease in developing countries might also, over one or two generations, slow down birth rates in the emerging world. However, the irony is that the very technology that will allow man to overcome naturally occurring diseases has and will increase our ability to construct biological weapons, which by intention or accident could be released to cause a new global pandemic. Currently, fewer than a handful of states have offensive biological weapons, but that number will surely increase with the advent of widespread genetic technology. Accordingly, there is as urgent a need for a non-proliferation treaty for biological weapons as there is for nuclear weapons.
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We must identify the theories that underlie historical cycles, learn the lessons and apply them to today’s changing world. Studying the ebb and flow of empires throughout history, in particular, can enable us to pinpoint the mechanisms that cause civilisations to rise and fall. Read about the book, an introduction to BTCH, feedback or purchase the book direct.